MAR 20, 2015 04:21 PM PDT

Team Finds Key to Making Neurons From Stem Cells

A research team at UC San Francisco has discovered an RNA molecule called Pnky that can be manipulated to increase the production of neurons from neural stem cells.

The research, led by neurosurgeon Daniel A. Lim, M.D., Ph.D., and published on March 19 in Cell Stem Cell, has possible applications in regenerative medicine, including treatments of such disorders as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and traumatic brain injury, and in cancer treatment.

Co-first authors Alex Ramos, Ph.D., and Rebecca Andersen, who are students in Lim's laboratory, first studied Pnky in neural stem cells found in mouse brains, and also identified the molecule in neural stem cells of the developing human brain. They found that when Pnky was removed from stem cells in a process called knockdown, neuron production increased three to four times.

"It is remarkable that when you take Pnky away, the stem cells produce many more neurons," said Lim, an assistant professor of neurological surgery and director of restorative surgery at UCSF. "These findings suggest that Pnky, and perhaps lncRNAs in general, could eventually have important applications in regenerative medicine and cancer treatment."

Lim observed that Pnky has an intriguing possible connection with brain tumors.

Pnky is one of a number of newly discovered long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), which are stretches of 200 or more nucleotides in the human genome that do not code for proteins, yet seem to have a biological function.

The name, pronounced "Pinky," was inspired by the popular American cartoon series Pinky and the Brain. "Pnky is encoded near a gene called ‘Brain,' so it sort of suggested itself to the students in my laboratory," said Lim. Pnky also appears only to be found in the brain, he noted.

Using an analytical technique called mass spectrometry, Ramos found that Pnky binds the protein PTBP1, which is also found in brain tumors and is known to be a driver of brain tumor growth. In neural stem cells, Pnky and PTBP1 appear to function together to suppress the production of neurons. "Take away one or the other and the stem cells differentiate, making more neurons," said Lim. "It is also possible that Pnky can regulate brain tumor growth, which means we may have identified a target for the treatment of brain tumors."

Lim said that the larger significance of the research is that it adds to a growing store of knowledge about lncRNAs, previously unknown sections of the genome that some biologists have referred to as the "dark matter" of the human genome.

"Recently, over fifty thousand human lncRNAs have been discovered. Thus, there may be more human lncRNAs than there are genes that code for proteins," said Lim. "It is possible that not all lncRNAs have important biological functions, but we are making a start toward learning which ones do, and if so, how they function. It's a new world of experimental biology, and the students in my lab are right there on the frontier."

Source: UC San Francisco
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
You May Also Like
SEP 05, 2018
Health & Medicine
SEP 05, 2018
Can AI Algorithms Accurately Assess Mental Illness?
Mental illness is complicated because while the causes are rooted in brain chemistry, neurological injury or other mechanisms in the brain, what is most af...
SEP 11, 2018
Videos
SEP 11, 2018
Are you sleeping right? The sleep stages explained
Are you having trouble sleeping? Well, you're not alone. The number of people affected by sleep problems such as sleep apnea or insomnia is startling h...
OCT 11, 2018
Neuroscience
OCT 11, 2018
Can Sleep Deprivation in Teens Increase Risk-Taking?
Getting enough sleep is a healthy habit for anyone, but in adolescents it's crucial. Brain development is happening at a rapid pace during the teen yea...
OCT 14, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 14, 2018
A Gene That can Make Light Touch Feel Painful
Anyone that has had a sunburn knows that even a light brush against the skin, like that from putting on clothes, can become excruciating....
NOV 12, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 12, 2018
A New Look at Messenger RNA
Researchers have discovered that longstanding textbook knowledge about an important molecule called mRNA is probably incorrect....
NOV 11, 2018
Health & Medicine
NOV 11, 2018
Stop Procrastinating, It's Not Good for You
Procrastination is common, but some people procrastinate much more than others. Those who do it persistently probably exhibit something known as chronic pr...
Loading Comments...